The NBA's two best players are four wins away from their first NBA championship.
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Both were challenged by graybeard teams, San Antonio and Boston, in the conference finals. But in the end Durant was too much for the Spurs and James for the Celtics. Now they meet for the first of what could be multiple times in the championship round.
Here's how the two finalists match up:
The Heat can't afford for Dwyane Wade to be a bystander as he often was against Boston. There were times he just didn't help James enough. Wade, who has had knee issues, could have his hands full guarding Russell Westbrook at times. Wade can't let it affect his offense, where he should see plenty of Thabo Sefolosha. Westbrook is explosive but can be turnover prone and shoot too much -- he actually has taken more shots in the playoffs than Durant. Westbrook can take over games, though. Mario Chalmers could be an X-factor. He doesn't shy away from big moments or big shots.
The small forward duel is special and could provide some moments of "anything you can do I can do better." (Or at least we hope). James is the better all-around player, particularly defensively. But Durant's size and length could affect James on offense. Miami is more concerned with Durant's scoring, and the size and length of Serge Ibaka, the NBA's best shot blocker. The Heat will try to pull Ibaka, one of the league's best help defenders, away from the basket. A lineup that includes Shane Battier and Chris Bosh could do that with their outside shooting. Udonis Haslem is a smart, selfless veteran who plays hard defense and rebounds well.
Bosh, who will play heavy minutes at center, proved his worth to Miami in Game 7 against the Celtics. If he can bury the jump shot and threes the way he did on Saturday night it should open up driving lanes for James and Wade that were often closed against Boston when Bosh was out with an abdominal injury. His presence should get them some uncontested looks. Kendrick Perkins is not an offensive threat. Post defense is his forte and the Heat doesn't have big men who play inside much, so Perkins' impact could be limited.
The Thunder has the clear advantage just with James Harden alone. The NBA's top sixth man has hit some gigantic shots in these playoffs and will keep the Heat's wing players busy. The Thunder also gets quality minutes from five-time champion and big-shot maker Derek Fisher and lunch-pail player Nick Collison. Bosh coming off the bench as he did the last three games against Boston would narrow the gap in this category for Miami, but he should start. The Heat needs Battier, Mike Miller and James Jones to knock down shots consistently and play strong defense, and Norris Cole and Joel Anthony have to give Miami something in limited minutes. Bottom line is James won't rest much.
Erik Spoelstra, the better defensive coach, was criticized for not making in-game adjustments against Boston. That can't happen or this could be a quick series. Spoelstra will have to devise some schemes to slow down the highest-scoring team in the playoffs and make sure the ball is moving an offense. Scott Brooks made some key moves against the Spurs, including putting Sefolosha on Tony Parker. Brooks probably should try to play some zone to prevent drives by James and Wade. Spoelstra has to be ready to make adjustments this time.
Prediction:Heat in six